If mixing business with pleasure is a recipe for trouble, someone forgot to tell FXRRVST (pronounced forest), the fast-emerging Toronto-based duo of Holly Forrest and Matthew Fuentes, whose devotion to each other is seconded only by their shared commitment to crafting ridiculously catchy, super-emotive alt-rock. Also to saving the planet. But more on that later.
Like the music of their wildly divergent heroes — Tegan and Sara for Forrest, who digs the lyrics and unconventional song structures, Fleetwood Mac for Funetes, who digs the guitar and vibes — FXRRVST songs are at once instantly accessible yet utterly unique.
Witness May XXVI, their dazzling debut and as confident a step towards world domination as can be expected from two people who have only been playing together (literally and figuratively) since 2015 following a momentous meeting slyly denoted by the Roman Numerals X and V in FXRRVST, which also echoes Forrest’s surname, and serves as an SEO dream.
Sonically and emotionally, May XXVI has it all.
First single “Tidal Wave” pitches Forrest’s iridescent voice against a strummy guitar line that builds into a massive, cascading run (think of the final bars of U2’s iconic “Where The Streets Have No Name”) backed by ethereal “oohs” and “ahhs.”
Elsewhere, the shimmering, slow-burning, and aptly named “Lovely” raises gooseflesh while offering a scorching guitar solo at the bridge. Forrest’s richly evocative lyrics are present throughout, perhaps most notably in “Safe House,” an acoustic sort-of ballad with palpable regret seared into each verse and chorus.
It’s no wonder that FXRRVST snagged a 2017 Toronto Independent Music Award nomination for Best Indie act. The wider pop/rock world is already on high alert.
“People ask us about our songwriting process but when it comes to structuring a song, we don’t have one,” Fuentes chuckles. “We just write what we think sounds good and hope everyone else likes it. You have to love your own songs before someone else can. Luckily, that’s worked out for us.”
“I usually write the basic chords and lyrics and then take it to Matt and he’ll edit and add the rest of the musical elements,” Forrest says. “We don’t bump heads — Matt doesn’t touch the lyrics and I don’t touch the solos. We know our thing and stick with it.”
The remarkable story of how Forrest and Fuentes got together suggests the universe was keen to see FXRRVST emerge. Arriving in Canada from her adopted home of Indonesia to study at the acclaimed Metalworks Institute, the Australian-born Forrest was introduced by a mutual friend to Fuentes, also studying music but at Seneca College.
“The day she arrived, we met and jammed some songs,” Fuentes says. “Funny enough, I didn’t like her music and she didn’t like mine — and we told each other that! She was more punk and I was more folk. But we were eager to start a band and it went from there, with some compromises. And we have seen each other literally every day since the day we met in August 2015.”
Fate intervened again when Forrest and Fuentes decided to record. Both were familiar with esteemed recording engineer Alfio Annibalini, who teaches at Seneca and at Metalworks. Moreover, he had worked with bands Forrest and Fuentes admired, notably Arkells. (Annibalini’s towering CV also includes The Tea Party, Our Lady Peace, Danko Jones, Big Sugar, and Blue Rodeo among many others).
The three headed to Toronto’s way-cool Orange Lounge in November 2016 to cut “Tidal Wave.”
“Alf wanted to see how we all worked together,” Forrest says. The chemistry was clear, and the three regrouped at Orange Lounge in early winter 2017 to capture what became May XXVI with Fuentes and Forrest playing everything on the album save drums.
Says Fuentes, “Alf understood our sound and what we were going for. For example, we really struggled with ‘Lovely,’ but he added some more flowery elements and made it great. I got shivers the first time I heard the finished version.”
Offstage, the pair are committed environmentalists, something largely off Fuentes’ radar until Forrest entered the picture. FXRRVST consciously strives to be green and to lead by example.
“Everything we use is recycled, from inks to paper to our T-shirts, which are made from bamboo and recycled cotton,” Fuentes says, adding that partial proceeds benefit local and international charities. “Artists can have such a big impact on their audience. And that’s part of what drives us.”
Well that, and music. Always, always music. Ask FXRRVST what success will look like with May XXVI, and both Forrest and Fuentes reply instantly. “We just want people to hear it, however they hear it,” Forrest says. “I’d be content with that. And maybe being able to make ends meet...”
Adds Fuentes, “Obviously, given our environmental goals, the bigger we get, the better. But even if we just get big in Canada, I’d be happy. We just really want to get this music out there.”
Only a fool would bet against them.